I watched the second leaders debate last night… And thank goodness the studio that Sky used was better than the 1980s set used by ITV last week!

And blimey, who’d have thought it? A couple of weeks ago, I was lamenting the lack of leadership  options as we gear ourselves up for a general election on May 6 and all hell breaks loose on our screens…  Everything has changed by having these leadership debates…

Nick Clegg, leader of the politically central Liberal Democrats, has been inspiring and hypnotising the public with his common sense, everyman persona. The press loved it and Clegg is now being proclaimed as “the British Obama”… Hahahaha.

The public loved it too, we’re talking a 10 point poll hike after the first debate – wow! That’s huge. it is ridiculous that prior to the leaders debates, the press rarely mentioned Clegg or even referred to him… And due to his success, he is now facing close scrutiny and getting a slamming from the far right newspapers…

I am personally delighted that this happened… It has all got lively and interesting.

Of course us British do love our underdogs too… Though many commentators and satirists whose work I follow do ground me somewhat by stating that as the third party, he had everything to gain from these debates… But perhaps we could have predicted all this based on some relevant research into the social psychology of leadership.

Michael Hogg and Daan van Knippenberg (2003) in Social identity and leadership processes in groups, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 1-52 offer up a theory stating that we choose our leaders based on the extent to which they are seen as “prototypical” of the group; that is, the extent to which they are seen to share the characteristics of the majority of group members…. Many in my field may well say this is the foundation of rapport development.

Prototypical leaders are appealing because they are perceived to strongly identify with the group and adhere to its attitudes and values. This means they should be a “safe bet” when it comes to acting in our best interests.

Clegg now finds himself in precisely this position. Compared to the Labour or Conservative leaders – who are represented as the “old” parties – Clegg and his Liberal Democrats are the face of change. This is the current Lib Dem mantra, in all their media-friendly soundbites, this is what they offer up. That we need something totally different from the old parties… It is making many people take notice.

While the old parties are seen as distanced and disconnected from the electorate, Clegg has found that connection; he’s our new prototype. He’s succeeded, at least temporarily, in making him one of “us” and the other two parties “them”. In short, he’s tapped into one of the most powerful mechanisms in intergroup dynamics, and it’s working for him like a dream.

It remains to be seen whether Clegg can maintain his new-found appeal. But as an illustration of social identity processes in the political sphere, it’s been one fascinating fortnight… I await the final debate on BBC next week.

Ok, so I’ll be back on Monday, aching legs or not… I plan to take some video and photos live from the London marathon as I prepare on the day and as I run it… Can’t wait for Sunday night… I’ll be wearing my marathon runners official medal in the curry house with beers and much merriment!